Blog, Prints & Photography Lessons from Edinburgh and the Lothians

Posts tagged “amateur photography

So you want to upgrade to a digital SLR?

You’ve had your compact camera for ages now and while you like the convenience you’re thinking of making a step up to a DSLR aren’t you? It’s hardy surprising, 10 years ago a DSLR was very much a luxury item, you could by a car for less than most around at the time, these days with entry level DSLR’s wit kit lenses coming in at under £400 for everything you need to get started it’s becoming a more and more tempting proposition for many.

But… before you rush off to your local camera dealers, or start furiously researching best prices online, ask yourself, what do you actually want from your camera? Do you just want to take pics of your mates drunk in the pub or just a few snapshots of the kids? Then, save yourself some cash and stick with your compact, it’s more than suited to the tasks in hand. On the other hand, if you find yourself getting a real interest in photography, feeling the urge to try and take better pictures and find you use your camera a lot then go right ahead, you won’t be disappointed.

Actually, that last statement is a lie; you will be horribly disappointed and equally frustrated when you move up to a DSLR. Just because you have a “proper” camera, it won’t make you a photographer overnight. There will be a lot of learning ahead, trial and tribulations and probably tantrums and tears as you get to grips with your new toy but rest assured, its worth it all as eventually you’ll get the results you want if you persevere.

What you have to remember is, this is a proper photographic tool you’re investing in. Even a cheap one will blow most compact cameras out of the water but you have to change your way of thinking. Don’t use it like a compact; don’t stick it on auto and snap away, what’s the point of that? Your compact can do that! What I’m going to detail isn’t how to use your camera but the things you should stick at to learn how it works properly. What to focus on to help you get the most from your new camera.

First things first, what equipment do you “really” need?

Ok, so obviously, you’re digital SLR. Be in Canon, Nikon or any other makes, it might seem unimportant but think on before you buy. That Pentax might be a great deal as you eye it up in Jessop’s, but think further down the line. Is there a good supply of lenses for it? How do the prices look? It’s important as typically once you buy into one system and start to add more lenses you won’t want to switch to another. I bought into the Nikon system and have since added 9 lens to my collection, to switch to Canon and re-buy all these lens’s would be horribly expensive so choose wisely. My honest opinion, go Nikon or Canon, a safe bet all round. Try both in the shop; see what you prefer as both will be very capable performers.

DO; buy the camera with the kit lens. It’ll be cheaper than buying the body only and adding a lens to that. Most kit lens will be in the 18-55mm range which is fine for a wide range of applications and it’s enough to get you going. The camera shop will invariably try to see you a UV filter to go with your new toy. No harm in that, it’s good for protecting your lens and does cut down haze but… think about it first. If the shop is trying to sell you a branded UV filter you may be paying upwards of £30 for it. They’ll sell it mainly as lens protection and there’s no doubt that it will protect your lens front element, however which in a camera bag etc, your lens cap will also do that and while it’s in your hands, the chances of scratching the lens is minimal. I have no UV filters anymore, I had 9 scratch free lens’s and believe me I am the worst in the world for chucking them back in the bag minus lens caps. Don’t waste your money on a UV, just treat your lens with respect, look after it and if you have the cash invest in a polarising filter instead.

Used properly, a circular polariser will enhance the blues in sky, make the contrast to clouds better and cut out glare from water, shiny surfaces etc. A million times more useful than a UV. More expensive sure, but look about online, you’ll get unbranded ones that while certainly not as good as your Hoya’s etc it’ll be more than adequate for starting out and you’ll get more proper benefit from it than you will a UV.

Also invest in a tripod of sorts, how much you spend is up to you. Tripods can range from a few pounds for small spindly effort to hundreds of pounds for the all signing and dancing carbon fibre models. Go mid range, even going to about £50 will pay dividends in the end. You’ll almost certainly upgrade it if you really get into this stuff no matter what you buy. While you at it, get onto eBay and get a remote control too. Needn’t be one of the mega bucks ones, a simple IR or corded remote for a few pounds is adequate.

Finally, a bag. You’ve got minimal kit so a small bag will do right? Well, depends if you’re going to add more as you go along? Eventually, that small bag will be overflowing and you’ll need another one. I bought a Loewpro mini trekker many years ago. £60 seemed a fortune for a bag but it’s still going strong although bursting at the seams now. You get what you pay for here!

So now you’ve got your kit, what first? Well, forget auto mode. Stick the camera on Av, aperture priority mode and leave it there. Learn about depth of field, how to focus, the difference of aperture vs. focal distance etc and you’ll get a pretty good grounding. Aperture is all in photography. Take a pic of something close to you, say 2ft away at f3.5 which your lens will probably do, then take the same pic at f22. Look at what you have and you’re on the way to understanding the cornerstone of photography.

Do; use your tripod and remote switch often. Not just in low light, if you photographing landscapes get into the way of using it, even in good light with fast shutter speeds. I originally shied away from the tripod, feeling a touch self conscious using it out in public, now I rarely take a shot handheld.

Now, this next statement will have some photographers out there crying in disbelief… and this is all the more important if you’re photographing landscape, cityscapes etc… LEARN ABOUT HDR PHOTOGRAPHY. For a few quid you can buy Photomatix Pro software and you’re on your way. HDR, which spat upon by most advanced or pro photographers is a post processing technique where you combine 3 exposures, one normal, one overexposed and one underexposed to get an final composite image with an increased tonal range. In shot, it can make an average picture look stunning, especially to a beginner. Read all about it and learn how to do it. Why? Because if you do, you will be amazed at the results, so will your friends and family and that encouragement will drive you on. I love HDR; it gave me a real boost while I was learning. It let me do things my camera and kit were not capable of doing in a single shot and these results spurred me onto more. I rarely do HDR anymore as I’ve increased my understanding of filters etc but in the short term it will give you great incentive to take more and to experiment and that can’t be a bad thing can it?

Sign up to Flickr or Blipfoto. Get involved in the communities, you’ll find plenty people willing to offer advice or even some tuition to help you along. Remember to not make it all one way traffic though, the more you put into these the more you get out. Upload regularly, learn and be inspired by others and you’ll be surprised how quickly you come on.

This will all keep you gripped for months but eventually you’ll want to add more kit. It happens to us all; maybe even upgrade your DSLR? You could spend forever but spend wisely. Think about what you’re getting, what you’ll use it for and most importantly spend as much as you can afford. Cheap lenses especially are rarely good lenses.

Initially for lens purposes think about adding a 50mm f1.8 first. This is a prime lens, i.e. no zoom, it has a large maximum aperture of f1.8 to allow some great depth of field shots and most importantly, they are cheap in lens terms, around the £100 mark. Every photographer should own one.

After this look for a decent zoom, something up to around 200mm. There are a load of cheap lenses out there up to 300mm but believe me, image quality at 300mm is crap, don’t be swayed by it. I bought a Sigma 70-200mm f2.8 EX HSM, expensive yes at over £600 but I’ve never needed another big zoom since, it’s so good it does it all!

These 3 will be more than enough for most but you may also get the urge to add a wider lens at some point, a valuable addition to any landscape photographer’s camera bag. True macro Len’s are also popular, by true macro I mean 1:1 reproduction. Don’t be fooled by lens’s which have 1:2 or 1:3, these are general purpose lenses with a macro function, NOT a true macro lens. There is a massive difference, believe me.

You might also notice the huge array of filters available. I would recommend getting yourself a P series holder and some 85mm filters, starting with a set of ND and ND soft grad filters. These will fit any lens regardless of size as long as you get the adapter ring for each lens. Much more convenient that the screw in systems.

Above all, have fun with it. It won’t all be easy going, you’ll get days you look at what you took and delete the lot but stick with it, you get it in the end and every now and again you’ll get an image that actually excites you then you’ll understand why you do it!


Flickr or Blipfoto?

For over 2 years now I’ve regularly used 2 photo sharing websites. The almighty Yahoo monster that is Flickr and the smaller Edinburgh based Blipfoto. To date I’m approaching 2000 uploads to Flickr and nearly 600 in Blipfoto. Both sites are heavily focused on the social networking theme but the main difference between the 2 is that you can only upload one single image a day to Blipfoto, and only on the day you take it making it more of a photo journal than Flickr.

So, why do I upload to both?

I get different things from both sites. Like I’ve already said, both sites could be termed as social networks. You have the ability to follow certain peoples uploads on both, add comments and favourites. Where the big difference lies though is that Flickr is very much a give to receive mentality. Comment regularly on others work on Flickr and in turn you’ll get a load of comments back yourself. This though, in my opinion, leads to sycophantic commenting by some who are just desperate to collect as many comments as possible on their work, genuine or not.

Blipfoto on the other hand is a very giving community. People comment because they like your photo, not because you drop by every day and leave a one word comment on theirs. Of course the give to receive thing does happen, you see some very average pics with stacks of comments but it’s not the norm, at least in my experience. It’s a more genuine, friendlier atmosphere on Blipfoto.

If your looking however to the more technical side of photography and a strive for the best images you can take then Flickr is the place for you. With so many uploads to Flickr of course it has it’s fair share of dross but cut through it and you will find a whole host of very talented individuals posting regularly and a lot of these are happy to share the settings, filters, techniques etc used to get the shots.

Blipfoto on the other hand suffers badly from the photograph anything brigade. It’s very nature of a photo a day leads people to photograph anything just to keep up their perfect tally of a photo every day. Looking at it’s front page of most recent uploads there’s less beautiful landscapes or creative images than there are quick snaps of peoples kids, cats, toilets or indeed anything that will let them post a pic with the minimum of effort. That’s not to say the photographic content is suffering as there are some incredible photos uploaded to Blip, you just have to look a bit harder to find them.

Another side effect, I’ve found, of this photo a day business is that it really does get you out taking pictures. Of course, some prefer to not leave the confines of their house and photograph the back grass growing in order to fulfil and upload but for me it gets me out and about nearly every night and as a consequence, I will happily credit Blipfoto as part of the overall package that makes we want to be a better photographer. I very rarely compromise by Blipfoto uploads these days, I won’t post and iPhone shot for the sake of it, I’d rather not upload so this actually does make me get up of my arse and get out with the camera. From my own journal on Blipfoto I can see that my own photos have massively improved since I first started to upload. Out practicing every night has to pay dividends in the end. Flickr doesn’t give you this drive and there’s no incentive to upload every day.

I won’t go into the features of both sites, suffice to say that if you subscribe to either you get access to a whole host of exclusive features that will just about satisfy anything you need from a photo site.

So, which do I prefer? Well, ask me this 2 years ago and the answer would have been Flickr without having to think about it. Now, after spending lots of time on both sites, watching them evolve, becoming immersed in their communities if I could have only one, it would be Blipfoto.

I strive to upload every day to Blipfoto and to upload as best an image as I can. Flickr now is largely an online depositary for my images. Comments on Blip tend to mean more to me that those on Flickr, I’ve been called an inspiration lately on Blipfoto; I’ve been told I photograph the same old crap on Flickr. See what I mean about the friendly thing? There’s no doubt that Flickr has opened more photographic opportunities for me and it’s where I go if I’m looking for ideas of locations, how to use particular filters etc but it’s just not got that feel good factor anymore.

If you’ve never tried Blipfoto, sign up a free account and give it a go, but please… try and resist photos of your kids, granny on the bog, your dinner, sunsets on your mobile phone but most of all… please don’t blip your cat!


Photographing Edinburgh’s April Sunsets

What a week it’s been for the old sunset shots! It also helps that sunset is at a hospitable time at the moment too. Setting around 8.40 is much preferable to being out and about at the back of 10 or worse still, being sat in work watching the sun give a great visual display on the horizon!

My last post gave you whole tale of how I managed to get my favourite sunset shot of the year so far, but as I can see from my Flickr photostream, April tends to be a particularly good month for sunset shots around Edinburgh for some reason.

This was last night’s effort. The original plan had been to head down to the Cramond Island causeway, but since I’ve done that to death I headed down to West Shore Road instead to a spot further along the coast I spotted the other night which had a perfect view of the causeway, Cramond Island and the Forth Bridges behind.

To say this was a difficult shot to take would be an understatement. The sun was still high in the sky, actually just above the top of the shot. With the distance I switched to the Sigma 70-200mm f2.8 EX HSM for a bit of extra reach but actually expected it to give me horrible lens flares, which surprisingly, it didn’t. Once again, I framed up the shot with no filters, locked up the tripod and slipped on the now invaluable Heliopan ND3.0 10 stopper, the result was a pleasing enough shot with a nice gentle orange glow in the sky but it left the water a touch dull.

To combat this I slipped on the adapter ring and filter holder and slipped in the sunset filter. With this in place I could stretch the exposure out to a full 60s, after a couple of goes at setting the grad this was the final result. It took a fair bit of post process if I’m honest as shooting into the sun had brought out every single dust mark on the sunset filter, of which there were many! There was also a bit of flare I’m managed to just about eridacate with a little dodge and burn. If I were to try this again I think I’d try shading the filters to try and get rid of the flare from the shot in the first place.

Silverknowes Sunset

The night before though also produced a surprise shot for me. With the position of the sun and ideally wanting to get it over water the Western Harbour at the back of Ocean Terminal is a great spot. The obvious shot is the old pier with the Gormley statue at the end of it, but the flats at the other side of the harbour make for a good shot too, especially if the water is still.

However, it was the pier that produced the goods. I’ve shot this before on long exposure and had a lot of issues with light bouncing back into the lens from the filters and I finally figured out why. At this location there is a shiny bare metal fence which I sit the tripod up against to get the shot, the light has been bouncing off the metal and back up into the bottom of the filters and I effectively get a reflection of the inside of the lens on the shot, just putting an arm along the fence was enough to get rid of this totally, amazing what you can figure out.

Again with this shot, I set up the shot without the 10 stopper in place, played with the filters to see which combination worked best and then screwed in the ND3.0 and slipped the other filters back on top. In this case, I’ve used the ND3.0, circular polariser, ND0.9 soft grad and sunset grad filter on a 3 minute exposure to get the colour and effect on the water. The sun was still in the sky off up to the left of this shot.

Gormley Sunset 26 April 2011

That’s the more recent shots but like I already said, April is a good month for sunsets so here’s some of the month’s other highlights!

Newhaven Lighthouse, April 26th
Easter Monday Sunset

Edinburgh Skyline from Longniddry, April 19th
Edinburgh Sunset

Portobello Sunset, also April 19th
Portobello Sunset

Another Newhaven sunset, also April 19th
Newhaven Sunset

Forth Bridges, April 12th
Forth Bridge at Sunset April 12 2011

Newhaven… again! April 10th
Newhaven Sunset April 10th 2011

Forth Road Bridge, April 9th
Forth Road Bridge sunset - Explored 10 April 2011 #321

Cramond, April 8th
Cramond Boat Sunset

Ashley Boathouse, April 7th
Ashley Sunset 7 April 2011 - Explored 7 April 2011 #44

Edinburgh City Centre, April 6th
Edinburgh Sunset 6 April 2011

Calton Hill, April 3rd
Calton Hill Sunset 3 April 2011


Happy with a sunset photo at last…

It’s not often I drop a new blog post about a single shot but I liked this one so much I thought it worthy of a little write up.

As you will see if you follow back my recent posts I’ve been experimenting with long exposure photography over the last few weeks, in fact, it’s becoming more of an obsession than an experiment.

What I have had bother with though, is getting decent colour into shots, hence why my Flickr Photostream has gone rather monotone of late. Stacking those Hitech ND soft grads is just a sure-fire route to a purple colour cast on the D90, which is pretty undesirable to say the least. However, last night everything just fell nicely into place and I ended up with, what has to be, may favourite shot of the year so far.

The original plan had been to catch the sunset at Longniddry over the rocks but other things I had to do put paid to that and I would have only made Longniddry just before the sun went down which would have been ok if I was more familiar with the location. As I’m not I diverted back up the Edinburgh coast with the intent to catch the sunset over the Western Harbour. However, since the shows are at Ocean Terminal just now and the place was overran with walking JD sports adverts with attitudes I headed for the more peaceful refuge of Newhaven Harbour instead.

I really didn’t want to be at Newhaven having really photographed the place to death over the last few weeks. Its easy location and multiple shot possibilities make it and attractive location but it’s fast becoming my new Colton Hill, somewhere I’ve visited so often I get bored of it.

With the sun setting though, it was Newhaven or nothing and apart from anything else, at this time of year bar the Forth Bridges, it’s probably the best sunset location in Edinburgh. Sunset was still about 25 minutes away when I got there so I originally setup with the Sigma 10-20mm on the D90 and took a few tester shots using the grads and polariser but no 10 stopper. 10 stoppers are only any good in harbours if the tide is out, with it in boats tend to bob about and blurred boats do not good pictures make.

With the sun and the available light dropping fast I moved position to put the sun behind the lighthouse to avoid any lens flares and replaced the ultra wide with the Sigma 70-200mm f2.8 EX HSM, my absolute favourite lens. This let me frame the lighthouse and harbour wall nicely but avoid any boats in the shot. I then added the 77m filter ring and slipped in the polariser, ND 0.9 soft grad and tried a few test shots. I also experimented with a light tobacco grad and sunset filter but it was the red grad, a filter I’ve never used as I hated the results that was producing the goods. With the grads set properly, I locked the tripod securely and removed the filter holder and put it down on the camera bag careful making sure the grads didn’t move. I removed the 77mm ring and fitted the Heliopan 77mm ND3.0 10 stopper, fitted the 77mm ring to that and carefully slotted in the holder with the grads. I had to do it this was as with the 10 stopper fitted there was no way to line up the red grad on the horizon as you can’t see anything.

With light fading fast I upped the ISO to 200 and opened the aperture up to f8 and went for a 2 minute exposure which was ok but the red was too intense. I tried again upping the exposure to 3 minutes which turned out perfect.

As far as post process work went, there wasn’t a lot to do, the pleasures of getting it more or less right in camera. I created a new adjustment layer and increased the exposure to lighten the inside harbour walls and bring out some detail. I then erased all but the harbour walls from the layer. I then added a new photo filter layer to intensify the colour in the water, other than that, that’s about all I had to do with this one. Thankfully the sensor clean I attempted the day before must have been spot on as there was nothing needed cloned out at all. A welcome surprise.

So here it is the final product and most certainly my favourite shot of the year, so far…

Easter Monday Sunset


10 Stopper Photography Fun

Well, I finally got my hands on a 10 stop filter. Not the B+W I had originally hoped to get, they seem to be rather hard to get hold of just now in the UK, but a Heliopan ND3.0. After a little bit of research it seems that this filter is rated as highly as the B+W so when TeamworkPhoto on Ebay put a stack up for sale at a slightly lower price than the B+W versions a sale was inevitable. At a touch under £100 for a 77mm version it might seem expensive for a little bit of round glass but it’s when you start to use these things you can see the quality and exactly what your paying for.

This particular filter is the slim version so it fits nicely onto my Sigma 10-20mm lens and I can attached the 77mm p series adapter ring to it to allow me to use the CPL and grads easily too. The lens is usable at around 12mm upwards otherwise you do start to photograph the edges of the filter holder, which isn’t too bad as even without the 10 stop in place you get this same effect at around 11.5mm so no great hardship there.

First thing I noticed and it’s fairly obvious really, you simply cannot see a thing through this filter. It’s that dark. Hold it into very bright light, i.e. into the sun and you could just about compose a shot but with grads and a CPL in place as well, not a hope. This means the shot has to be composed on the tripod (obviously); the head locked in place and then carefully fit the 10 stopper and slip the filter holder with the grads on. Bit fiddly but you won’t be taking that many shots with this arrangement in place since you’re likely to be playing around in the 3 minutes exposure mark.

This was the first attempt with the 10 stopper. Taken on Calton Hill in Edinburgh, just the 10 stop and CPL in place. VERY bright light, around 5pm with a clear blue sky and, unusually for Scotland, a nice bright sun. 3 minute exposure and it’s nicely done the trick I wanted and got rid of all the tourists walking about in front of the monument, which was sheer luck not of them stood still long enough to get into the shot.

3 Minute Monument

I did have another attempt later the same day at Newhaven Harbour and got some cracking results but the sea was rough, the wind was terrible and the grads were picking up spray all over and the shots were frankly unusable as a result. Lesson learned there.

Next night out was the Forth Bridges. A very familiar subject so a good place to test the filter out. I started around 7.20pm, approx an hour before sunset with the tide coming in and the sun still quite high above the Road Bridge. It seemed pointless to go shooting into the sun so I took a shot of the rail bridge with the rocks in the foreground getting covered by the incoming tide. This was a 4 minute exposure with the CPL and Hitech 0.6 ND soft grad. Very impressed at the lack of colour cast from the grad with the 10 stopper, at least if your not looking into the sun with it.

Forth Bridge April 12 2011

As the sun went further down I moved to the other side of the rail bridge to get the sunset with both bridges in the shot. A popular spot for photographers and sadly, the ned element of South Queensferry too it seems.

This was the last of my 10 stop shots for the night as exposure times were getting way too long with the decreasing light. This was a 331s exposure with the 10 stopper, CPL, ND0.6 soft grad and a light tobacco grad, ISO200 f11.

Forth Bridge at Sunset April 12 2011

I have to say I’m enjoying the learning process with this new filter although my usual hit and miss method of calculating exposure times is going to get very tiring very fast. To that ends I’ve found an iPhone app called Long Time that does the calculation for you which I’ll give a trial of next time I’m out which will hopefully see the end of hit and miss results guessing exposure times.


Hipstamatic! The ultimate iPhone photography app?

I’ve got a new obsession.

Actually, it’s an old one rekindled and it comes in the form of the Hipstamatic app for the iPhone. A better £1.19 you couldn’t hope to spend. Digital photography has never looked so analogue is their strapline and it’s true. The easiest way to try and describe it is to look at it as some sort of lomography affair. You get the light leaks, the vignettes, the odd colourings etc and that’s the appeal. As a Holga owner this is far easier and more convenient that getting all that 120 format film developed. Obviously, it’s not proper lomo but it’s a whole lot of fun to use.

I rediscovered the pleasures of Hipstamatic after my recent interest in long exposure photography. What do you do when you’re waiting for a 3 minute exposure to end? You rattle off some Hipstamatic shots of the same subject, that’s what! It’s perfect. I even started photographing my D90 on the tripod doing the long exposure.

D90 at the pier

That shot on Calton... Hipstamatic

in fact, I’m having so much fun with this app I’ve started to take the Hipstamatic shots and then upload them using the Flickit App to my Flickr account, which also posts to Twitter with a link to the shot. Great fun as I can do it while I’m out and about rather than having to wait till I get home.

I used to use Hipstamatic to photograph everyday situations a new way, i.e. mundane scenes in an unusual style but now I’ve tried applying it to the sort of scene I’m photographing with the D90 it’s opened up a whole new set of uses and it’s nice to see some instant different takes on a scene.

So far I’ve used it at…

Newhaven Harbour
Newhaven Lighthouse Hipstamatic

Ashley Boathouse
Ashley Boathouse Hipstamatic

Dean Village
Dean Village Hipstamatic

Dean Village Railings

Portobello Beach
Porty Beach Hipstamatic

Porty Beach Breakwater Hipstamatic

Calton Hill
Calton Hipstamatic

Calton Hill Hipstamatic

Cramond
Cramond Beach Hipstamatic

My favourite Hipsta shot ever…
Cramond Causeway

and the Forth Bridges
Forth Road Bridge Hipstamatic

Forth Bridge Hipstamatic

Forth Bridge Hipstamatic

The point I’m trying to get to here, is that it’s a great compliment to my usual photography. What Hipstamatic does is what no other iPhone photography app does, it makes taking photos with a mobile phone fun and interesting. Your not looking for that meag quality shot, just something quick and interesting and it ticks both those boxes many times over. Besides… it doesn’t half fill in the gaps between those 3 minute exposures!


The Long Exposure Learning Curve Continues…

If you follow this blog you’ll know I’ve recent found myself caught in the grip of long exposure photography. Something I’ve done in the past with mixed results, but with methodical use of my range of filters I’ve discovered a lot this past couple of weeks. I still feel I’m being constrained slightly by the equipment but learning a lot and getting some images I’m very happy with as a result.

Keep the filters clean!
This was a lesson learned the hard way. I’d never cleaned any of my slot-in filters since I got them back in September. Screw in’s for some reason Iim happy to wipe down with whatever’s at hand, but I’ve been overly precious about the slot in filters. Which became very evident after a trip out and then finding I had to clone out dozens of marks on the shots. All very well but sometimes it’s not that easy to get a smooth clone on streaky clouds etc, so best avoided.

To clean then I’ve been washing them gently under a warm tap, dabbing dry with kitchen roll and then finally cleaning carefully with a lint free cloth. Seems to work fine. You can see marks on all the filters but these don’t show up at all on the images, huge difference.

Be aware of the where sun is!
This is another one I’ve finally figured out. Some shots looked dreadful. Such a disappointment when you see the camera preview, get home and find all sorts of strange flares and marks all over the shot.

What I’ve found is that with the sun directly behind you it seems to hit the filters and bounce light back into the lens and highlights any marks on the filters. With the sun to the side and rear in some cases it causes the camera to actually record the front element of the lens on the shot as a reflection. Funnily enough, shooting near on into the sun, if you can avoid the flares seems to work fine? To this ends though I’ve taken to trying to shield the filters in some way from stray sunlight, fortunately, living in Scotland, it’s not that big an issue!

Wind is both your friend and enemy
After a night out with the camera on Friday it brought home just how good and how big a pain in the rear end wind can be. On the plus side, high winds ripple water nicely making those smooth milky sea shots a lot easier and it sends the clouds racing across your shot, also desirable. However… it also blows your tripod about all over the place, even a sturdy one. It’s worse still with a stack of rectangle filters in front of the lens giving it more to catch onto. I’ve seem me this week almost standing over the tripod trying to shield the camera from the wind. Nothing worse than a 3 minute exposure and you see the camera move just as you get near the end.

All these shots were taken in near gale force winds:

Newhaven Harbour and Lighthouse
Newhaven Lighthouse Mono

Newhaven Lighthouse Long Exposure

Old Pier in the Western Harbour, the wind was especially bad here:
Old Pier Mono 2

Old Pier Mono

In bright conditions, lose a grad and use the polariser!
My P series filter kit gives me the option of using 3 filters in front of the lens and my screw in ND8, typically for these long exposure shots that means a Hitech ND0.9 soft grad and 0.6 soft grad. However, as I’ve discussed in previous posts, the ND0.9 causes a horrific purple colour cast.

What I found on Saturday though, was that in bright conditions with blue sky around, to replace the ND0.9 with the circular polariser and keep the 2 grads, still lets me push around 20-30s exposure in very bright conditions and keep some colour in the shot too as there is little or no cast. The polariser has the added benefit of darkening the sky and highlighting the clouds, even losing the 0.6ND and using the 0.9ND for B&W work with the polariser in place was very beneficial. So, use the polariser and experiment with your other filters in bright conditions.

All these shots were taken with the polariser in place:

Cramond Beach
Cramond Beach April 2011

Cramond Tide April 2011

Despite the best efforts of some strange foreign bloke to get in every shot, these were taken in Portobello beach with the polariser slotted in place instead of the ND0.6 soft grad.

Porty Breakwater

Porty Seascape

Portobello Groynes

Experiment!
I cannot recommend this enough; try different things you never know what you’ll get. This shot on Calton Hill was taken with the ND0.6 soft grad, ND0.9 soft grad and a sunset filter in place, not a particularly long exposure at 40s but I liked the resulting colours.

Calton Hill Sunset 3 April 2011

Finally, I’ll leave you with a couple of other long exposure mono shots from last nights trip to Cramond just as the tide was on its way out.

Cramond Causeway Mono April 2011

Cramond Causeway Mono 2 April 2011

Above all though, I’m enjoying this learning curve a lot. I’ve already priced up how much a move to the Lee pro filter systems will be. At approx £550 for what I want, the saving starts now!


More Long Exposure Photography Fun…

So… I’m still kind of obsessed with this long exposure monochrome photography thing. It’s a bit addictive once you’ve sussed it out. For me, going out every night with a camera isn’t out of the ordinary, my parallel addiction to blipfoto.com feeds that habit, but since getting into this long exposure stuff I can’t wait to get out and about. It’s like wiping my photography slate clean and I can go back and photograph everything I’ve photographed before in a new way.

What I have learned though, is that Formatt’s range of Hitech filters are NOT particularly good, something I found particularly evident with some experimentation tonight. Shooting with a very cheap screw in ND8 on the Sigma 10-20mm lens there is no colour casting at all. Add in a Hitech 0.9 and 0.6 ND soft grad, with this £5 screw in, no colour casting. Add in the Hitech 0.9ND and it all goes purple in the sky. Take out the ND8 and it’s all still purple.

Examine this logically. The ND8 gives a 4 stop reduction in light; the 0.9ND gives a 3 stop. The 2 grads give a 3 and 2 stop reductions, combined to 5. Now, with the screw in, that’s overall 4 stops reduction with a further 5 stops grad in the sky, no cast. With the ND0.9, that’s overall 3 stops with a further 5 in the sky, less than with the screw in and the colour cast is horrible. It doesn’t take Sherlock Holmes style power of deduction to realise it’s that Hitech 0.9 ND that’s spoiling this party for the colour shots! It’s got to go and I NEED a B+W ND110 and quickly. From what I see from other people with this filter, no casts! Poor show Formatt.

Anyway, tonight’s trip took in Newhaven Harbour, the Old Pier at the back of Ocean Terminal shopping centre at the Western Harbour and finally, a quick pit stop in the Dean Village for the Water of Leith. The 2 coastal stops were, shall we say, challenging. It was cold, blowing a gale and there were occasional spots of rain in the air. Despite this though, both Newhaven and the old pier gave some decent shots overall. I’ve photographed that old pier a few times now; finally I’ve got a shot I’m happy with.

Old Pier Mono 2

Tried some new angles at Newhaven, thankfully the gate was open at the top here and I didn’t have to do any acrobatics over the fence…

Newhaven Lighthouse Mono

The wind was so bad down here tonight you literally had to shield the tripod with your body to get a decent shot. Typical Scottish wind too, came from every angle and was bloody cold!

Quick trip inland to the Dean Village was the best option to escape the wind. It’s a great location this and the last twice I’ve visited here there was a film crew on the bank I wanted and the time before that the Water of Leith was in serious spate at the banks were under water. No so today and a few different angled shots of this great scene were had. I liked this one best, very low angle from the opposite bank from the one I wanted. Worked well and the 2 ducks that were following me about thankfully kept moving so didn’t appear in the shot!

Dean Village Mono

I’ll leave you with a couple of other shots from the last few nights using this same technique.

Forth Bridge from South Queensferry.
Forth Bridge Long Exposure

And the Forth Road Bridge from the same location with some nice cloud movement.
Forth Road Bridge Long Exposure

Forth Bridge again at high tide, this was taken in pouring rain, lots of cloning out of raindrops to rescue this was needed!
Forth Bridge and Mist

And finally, a shot of the causeway at Cramond leading to Cramond Island, this was my breakthrough shot. I was down here doing a sunset and gave this a quick try before I left, best shot of the night!
Cramond Island Causeway B&W


Long Exposure learning curve

Up until last September I was quite happy to grab the camera, a lens, usually with a polariser attached and go for a wander, snapping whatever took my fancy and then usually converting it to HDR. Then something happened… I discovered proper filters.

Now, I’d used filters, or more correctly, briefly filtered with some cheap screw in filters but to no great length, I had no real need as I was quite happy with what I was doing and the results I was getting. Then I started to take notice of some stuff on Flickr, those cream water seascapes and the likes and something kindled a new interest.

After some research, I decided not to go down the Lee filters route, yes, I know how good they are but being realistic, there was no way I could commit to the Lee system with the cost of the filters. I’m not a pro therefore didn’t feel I could justify the huge expense of these; it has to be said, very good filters.

Cokin was rejected after reading some horror stories about colour casts so I eventually bought myself a set of 0.3, 0.6 and 0.9 Hitech ND’s and a set of 0.3, 0.6 and 0.9 Hitch soft grads. Throw in a 67mm and 77mm adapter ring, holder, wide angle holder and a Kood slot in circular polariser and I was ready to experiment. Since then I’ve also added a Kood light tobacco grad, Kood red grad, Cokin 81A warm up filer and a cheapy ebay sunset filter. All in cost, less then the cost of 1 Lee filter. Nothing likes the quality but good enough for me to play around with on my D90.

First impression was this was going to be a huge learning curve. I got the dreaded colour casts while using the ND0.9 and ND0.9 soft grad and to be honest, I was ready to give up once I see that. BUT, I kept using them, mainly just a single grad and polariser and got some reasonable results. Steadily the grads especially became 2nd nature to use but something was missing, I wanted the flat sea and streaky cloud shots and these filters were just to giving me that.

Then, by chance I found an old ND8 screw in filter I had forgotten about, which being double threaded let me put the 77mm adapter ring on top of that, with the filter holder attached to the adapter ring, and the ND0.9, ND0.9 grad, ND0.6 grad in the holder I was able to push exposure times to 3 minutes and more in daylight, finally, the result I wanted without the expense of buying a B+W ND110 10 stop filter.

Cramond Island Causeway B&W

To be honest, it only works in B&W as the colour casts are horrible, but until I can get my hands on one of those B+W ND110′s then this do just fine for me. Very happy with the results.

Still got a lot of learning to do, I wish I had stacked 2 grads taking this shot but at least it gives me an excuse to go back and try again. Amazing what you can do with what you find lying about in the pits of the camera bag!

The Old Pier

Newhaven Lighthouse


In search of Supermoon…

There’s nothing better than a special event to bring out the photographers in Edinburgh, even more so it seems if it’s a once every 20 years lunar event as we had on Saturday 19th March. The event in question, the Perigee Moon saw the moon at it’s closest to earth for 18 years meaning it would look 14% bigger and 30% brighter. Would we even notice? Who care’s it’s a photographable event and plans had to be made!

Last week after being in North Queensferry I had noticed the moon directly above the Rail Bridge so that was a possible location. Blackford Hill was another but it gets slightly cold up there if it’s windy. So, with the help of Twitter and The Photographers Ephemeris, I decided on Calton Hill. From the Photographers Ephemeris you could see the position and time of the moonrise, around 6.30pm and due East.

On arriving at Calton Hill the first thing that struck me was the amount of photographers already setup at 6pm with cameras on tripods facing the wrong direction! I can only assume one set up incorrectly and the rest followed as they had all moved by 6.30pm.

It was cold on the hillside on Saturday and as you would expect, half 6 came and went with no sign of the moon. Typically, the clear skies of earlier in the day had given way to heavy cloud cover, not what you want for moon photography. My efforts were further hampered by missing my Sigma 70-200mm f2.8 lens, which has to go for repair earlier in the day leaving me with just my backup Sigma 28-300mm zoom, nice enough lens but oh so soft on the focus at the 300mm end. With that in mind, moon shots were out but moon above a landmark might still work out.

Just when I was about to give up hope the first glimmers of an appearance were in the Eastern sky, at this point I was up at the side of Observatory house and this was the first shot I got of any sort of moon just to the side of the National monument:

Supermoon

Walking past the monument revealed where at the photographers had went; they were dotted everywhere around the hillside here. The moon however, was not in a mood to show itself and the only other shot I got was this:

Supermoon

Long exposure and moon shots don’t go but there wasn’t even a remote chance of shooting the land and then the moon to combine in Photoshop. Fed up and cold I packed up and headed off being that I wasn’t interested in getting the moon high in the sky. Typically, on the way back to the car with all the gear packed away the moon popped out, just for a minute.

Now, I hate not getting the shot I went for so the next night, the moon was due to rise at 8.15pm again, due east. On checking possible locations this time I went, appropriately, for the car park of the Royal Observatory on Blackford Hill. You don’t want to be parking in the public car park up here at night unless dogging is your thing…

Predictably, 8.15 came and went and it was nearly 20 minutes later till the first glow in the clouds gave away moon position. Higher than I’d have liked I started to get some exposures of the land hoping if the cloud cleared I’d get a change of an exposure for the moon to combine in. After another 20 minutes of hanging about, finally the clouds obliged. 2 shots were got, first of the moon then without moving the camera a longer exposure for the land. This was the final result of the 2 combined with Photoshop CS5.

Not quite so supermoon but still quite super

Not quite the weekend of lunar photography I’d hoped for and 18 years to wait for it to happen again.

Or fake it?

Processing this shot last night I thought an added moon gave it a nice balance!

Blackford Twilight

Not that dissimilar to another faked shot from a couple of months back:

Full Moon and Arthurs Seat

Lesson to be learned? You can’t control the elements so if you really want the shot, learn to fake it! ;o)


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,412 other followers